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Classic Exchange -- A Vintage Radio Contest

01/09/2009

Do you have any old equipment from the bygone days of radio? Are you a homebrewer who likes to make nifty low power (QRP) radios or replicas of old rigs? Well the good news is that you can put those pieces on the air in an operating event that will make you feel like you are in another era. That event is called Classic Exchange (CX) and it is held twice a year. The purpose of CX as described in their newsletter is to "Encourage restoration, operation and enjoyment of older commercial and homebrew ham gear." Some years ago, I heard stations on 40 meter CW calling "CQ CX." After some research, I discovered that this was a contest for vintage and homebrew gear. It sounded like a great way to get some use from the old rigs I had in my basement. Since then, I have rediscovered the magic of radio and await the next CX event for more of it.

Tuning into the Classic Exchange allows you to hear the radios that are now just memories of the past. You can have a contact (QSO) with a station that is using equipment that was built before you were born. CX is a real contest, with much the same thrill as Sweepstakes or a DX contest. In this contest, the number of QSOs is only part of the story. The other part is the age of the transmitter and receiver. The event covers two weekends, one for CW and the other for phone. If you are interested in getting a high score, you need to make a lot of QSOs with as many pieces of the oldest gear you can acquire. Keeping these old beauties going can sometimes lead to unexpected results. Don't be too surprised if the station you are talking to suddenly goes silent. The fireworks in his shack may be making him scramble for cover! Keeping old gear in good working order is one of the cornerstone attractions of the Classic Exchange.

Many of the radios used in CX are homebrew or military. Some are oldies but goodies from the past history of radio. All the operators are gentlemen and a pleasure to meet. If you put a homebrew radio on the air, it is automatically given a 25 year age, unless it is actually older. Your radio's age is the sum of the transmitter and receiver ages. If you use a transceiver, it is the radio's age times two. To qualify for the age multiplier, you must use the piece of equipment for three QSOs. The total score is the sum of all scores for each mode used. I do most of my CX operating on CW, but you can also use SSB, AM or FM. The bands used are 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6 and 2 meters. You may work the same stations on each band and on each mode. Also, you can rework a station if you or the other operator has a different equipment line-up.

The radios you will hear most during CX are from Heathkit, E.F. Johnson, Hallicrafters, Collins, Drake and National. Less common are the Harvey-Wells, Central Electronics, Globe, Swan and Meissner. Some of the more exotic stations use vintage Navy rigs and even some WW II spy radios. The most interesting station I worked was WW2LST, aboard a restored Navy ship the LST-325, which hit the beach on D-Day in 1944 and was back on the air for Classic Exchange. Most stations run in the 50-100 W class, with a few running higher power. A good antenna on the low bands is always helpful for the late night contacts.

The Classic Exchange Contest

The Classic Exchange group publishes an announcement before each contest and a newsletter with the results after. The after contest Classic Radio Exchange Newsletter is a rogues' gallery of the contestants and is a joy to read. The editor is "Mac" MacAulay, WQ8U, who spins a very interesting web from all the bits of information received from the participants' feedback. It's fun to hear the comments from the other side of the QSO. Included are many interesting anecdotes, theories and observations recorded in these reports, which are interesting reading in themselves. A recent post describes a plan for reducing global warming by putting time on your boat anchors! If your station is noteworthy for some reason, it will probably be noticed by someone and show up in the newsletter. This may include some categories that are less than flattering such as Most Distinctive Note Award and Smoke Release Award. In contrast, the highly sought after Creativity Award is for the best solution to a crisis during the contest.

The first Classic Exchange was conceived by Stu Stephens, K8SJ (SK) his brother Al Stephens, N5AIT, and Bob Morgan, K8RBV. It was first called the Nostalgic Exchange and was posted in QST in 1976. The following year it was renamed the Classic Exchange and has been gathering new entrants since.

In my first CX, I got on using an old Heathkit HW-101 and Atlas 210X. I then fixed up my old Hallicrafters HT-37 and had another "heavyweight shack heater" to put into the mix. The next year I added the SB300/SB-401 Heath Twins. By the winter of 2007, I was up to about 30 pieces of classic radio gear.

It seems this aspect of the hobby has a firm grasp on me! As a retired electrical engineer, I spent my career working with electronic equipment. Restoring, building and operating my radios gives continuity and fulfillment to my retirement. There is always something you can do to improve or add to your classic station to enhance the operating experience. I use several switching methods, mostly being able to select from various transceivers or pairing one old transmitter with a selection of receivers. Since I primarily operate CW, my switching system allows me to have a common key, sidetone, speaker and antenna lines.

I have acquired radio equipment from friends, clubs and estates. I have built homebrew projects and restored the projects of others to add to my vintage shack. For me, the number of radios I have is not as important as keeping them looking good and in working order. I get the same enjoyment that an owner of a restored 1957 Chevy would have when he takes his car out on a sunny day to be admired by onlookers. Putting an old radio on during the Classic Exchange is as good as it gets!

There is also a very warm feeling you get when both stations are using vintage or homebrew radios. Put that into a contest format and you have the Classic Exchange. I love to work boat anchor to boat anchor and it's great to hear the history of the old gear from the proud owners, even if they are adopted parents. So join the upcoming Classic Exchange contest. You will have a chance to get that old stuff out and take it around the bands again for some QSOs in this new millennium and maybe make some new friends who will enjoy hearing your radio gems.

The CW portion of the CX will run from 1400 UTC January 25 to 0800 UTC January 26, 2009 (9 AM Eastern Time on Sunday to 3 AM Eastern Time Monday). The AM, SSB, FM portion of the CX will run from 1400 UTC February 15 to 0800 UTC February 16, 2009 (9 AM Eastern Time on Sunday to 3 AM Eastern Time Monday).

All photos courtesy Mario Dianora, N2AK.

Mario Dianora, N2AK, was first licensed as WV2ODC in Staten Island, New York, at age 15. He obtained an Electrical Engineering degree from Manhattan College in 1967 and began a 36 year career as a civilian Electrical Engineer with the Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station in Philadelphia. Employed by the Navy until January 2004, he entered retirement in 2006. Mario enjoys designing QRP equipment, restoring vintage radios and operating both. He enjoys working 80 meter CW for the South Jersey Radio Association's Field Day operation and sailing his Catalina 25 along the Jersey shore.

 

Mario Dianora, N2AK



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